When we think about the poor of the world our thoughts often drift toward starvation, unsafe water, malaria, and lack of medical attention. These thoughts will likely move us to taking action in a variety of ways. We give farming skills and equipment, we drill wells, we provide mosquito netting, and doctors volunteer their time to help treat the poor of the world.
All of these things can be helpful and beneficial but there is a deeper, much darker, problem below the surface of poverty. The problem is violence. Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, recently released a new book titled The Locust Effect, which documents the plight of the poor in developing countries.
What benefit is it to provide schooling for girls that refuse to attend because many of them get raped when they attend? How can a micro-loan help a father provide for his family when he gets thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit and can't afford to bribe the law enforcement? How is a mother supposed to care for her children when her home is taken away from her by her husband's family once he dies?
In the opening chapter of The Locust Effect, Haugen tells the story of an 8-year-old girl named Yuri who was brutally raped, murdered, and then discarded in an alleyway in La Union, Peru. The next morning her brother was the one to find her body. This story is bad enough as it is, but, to make it even worse, the murderers were never punished. There was overwhelming evidence but the perpetrator went without any consequence. On top of that, the police arrested a random poor person and sentenced him to prison for thirty years for the crime.
If this was an isolated case then we could just chalk it up to some freak crime. However, for many developing countries this is the rule and not the exception. Crimes go unpunished each and every day. Law enforcement is often the place that we think that these poor can turn to for protection. Unfortunately, law enforcement is often being bribed so the criminals can go free, and many times the law enforcement officials are even the ones carrying out the crimes.
Gary relates this violence to swarms of locust that ravaged the Great Plains in the 1870s. These locust came without warning and annihilated all the crops and livestock and many people died as a result. How much help would it be to provide these people with more seed? It would be a kind gesture, but not only have their crops been destroyed, but they have been demoralized. What is the point of planting new crops if the locust will just return to destroy them again? So, many stop trying.
The problem with violence is that not only does it destroy lives, but it also demoralizes those that suffer from it. Girls drop out of school. Women succumb to forced prostitution. Slaves don't bother trying to get a better life for their children because they will be slaves too.
Violence tends to be an invisible force that wrecks the lives of millions and millions each year. It is easy to see the shacks, starvation, and sickness. It is not so easy to see the rape, torture, and murder that happens behind closed doors and in dark slums. The victims are scared and ashamed and many never speak of these things. The few brave that do speak about it aren't taken seriously because they are poor and most often justice is not served.
The World Health Organization says that violence causes more death and disability in women ages 14 to 44 than war, car accidents, and malaria combined. Where can these victims go for protection? The police? In most first-world countries it is hard to imagine someone running away from the law enforcement rather than running to it, but that is the case in many of these developing countries.
It is time that we being to realize that before we feed the poor of the world we need to protect them. Haugen paints a hopeful future where Christians, churches, and law enforcement rise to the occasion to protect the innocent around them. The solution is not as simple as parachuting in a bunch of American lawyers and police. It will be a messy and uphill battle, but one that is very dear to the heart of God.
Proverbs 21:15 says that when justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
Judah Thomas is the Worship Director at Faith Living Church in Plantsville, CT where he leads teams of volunteers in technical and creative arts. He has been in ministry for over 15 years and enjoys making music and being in the outdoors. He lives with his wife Carey and three wildly creative children. You can connect with him on his blog http://www.judaht.com or follow on Twitter @judahrthomas.